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You’ve finally decided: 2024 is the year to take the Alaska cruise you’ve been dreaming of – whether it’s been a few years or a lifetime of waiting. One of the most exciting prospects when booking an Alaska cruise is choosing your Alaska cruise excursions in each port. These ports are where you can experience the real Alaska – if you know which excursions to choose, that is.
Icy Strait Point, sometimes called Hoonah after the native people who live in this area and run the cruise port, is one popular stop on Alaska cruises… but it can be hard to decipher the marketing language to know which excursions will be worth your time – and money.
If you’re struggling to choose between Icy Strait Point shore excursions, I’m here to help. I spent three summers working for one of the major cruise companies, and during that time I had to make recommendations for excursions for thousands of Alaska cruisers. So I decided to use that knowledge to come up with a list of the best Icy Strait Point excursions.
In years past, I used to call out Icy Strait Point as the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park; this year, my research showed that the major cruise companies seem to be visiting Glacier Bay as part of their itineraries and there are no excursions that take you into the park anymore. (One of my past favorites was a flightseeing tour!) Instead, use your day in port at Ice Strait Point or Hoonah to experience the unique slice of Alaskan life you can only find in this native-owned and operated purpose-built cruise port.
I put these Icy Strait Point cruise excursions in order based on what I know Alaska visitors will love. I also keep in mind some of the other tips on choosing Alaska cruise excursions I’ve previously shared. For each excursion, I list which cruise companies offer that one – so you can see whether your cruise is on the list. Read on for the best Icy Strait Point excursions for your upcoming Alaska cruise.
In this post, I promote travel to a national park that is the Lingít Aaní (traditional lands) of the Huna (Hoonah) Tlingit people. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the people who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally published in March 2020, and was updated most recently in December 2023.
“Icy Strait Point” vs “Hoonah”
As you browse cruise itineraries and research which shore excursion(s) to choose in Icy Strait Point, you’ve probably noticed that the community is also called “Hoonah.” I wanted to clarify any confusion quickly before jumping into what I recommend you do while there.
In short, Hoonah is the Alaska Native name for the community that supports Icy Strait Point; the Huna Tlingit people have lived in this part of Southeast Alaska since Time Immemorial (their original claim to land is across Icy Strait-Cross Sound in (what is now) Glacier Bay National Park. Due to advancing glaciers, the Huna people moved to this land; when the glaciers receded, their land had been claimed by explorers and later the National Park Service.
As you can tell, “Hoonah” comes from the name “Huna;” it is an equivalent name for the modern cruise port “Icy Strait Point,” though the actual community (i.e. where locals live) is a short distance further inland along Port Frederick than where your cruise terminal will dock.
The Best Icy Strait Point Cruise Excursions
Given how many cruise companies offer a number of interesting and unique shore excursions in Icy Strait Point, it was hard to choose which ones to recommend. But, I’ve weighed the options and consider these nine to be the best Icy Strait Point and Hoonah cruise excursions. Here’s how I calculated the scores:
- I went through all of the Icy Strait Point shore excursions (134) on every company (8) that has any cruise(s) that stop there in 2024.
- I looked at the number of cruise companies offering that excursion this year.
- I force-ranked the excursions by “uniqueness” with no ties.
- I calculated what the cruise should cost with my “Money-to-Time” calculation and then gave a bonus (or penalty) based on the actual excursion price.
- Finally, I added up the metrics to come up with a final score.
- To break ties, I used the “uniqueness” score, since I want to encourage you to try new things in Alaska!
For 2024, here’s my list of the best Icy Strait Point excursions:
|# of Cruises
|Seafood Feast & Tribal Dance Show
|In Alaska’s Wildest Kitchen
|Spasski River Valley Wildlife & Bear Search
|Whales, Wildlife & Brown Bear Search
|Whale Watching & Seafood Feast
|Discovering Birds of Hoonah
|Whale & Marine Mammals Cruise
|Icy Strait Point Kayak Adventure
|Ocean Raft Adventure
|Back Country Jeep Adventure
As you can see, the top options for cruise excursions in Icy Strait Point have changed a lot recently; many of the shore excursions I recommend are new on the list this year, and most of those are more traditional Alaska cruise excursion activities you’ll see in other ports (wildlife watching, driving tours, etc.) – but there are a few great ones that have held on to the list in 2024.
For the rest of this post, I’ll highlight five of the excursions on this table and which type of Alaska traveler I think each is best for. Let’s go!
🥾 Best for Adventure Travelers: Icy Strait Point Kayak Adventure
When it comes to defining “adventure” in Alaska, there is no shortage of options for getting your heart rate up and seeing the state in a new way. I personally love kayaking in Alaska (and most other places too) because it’s such a peaceful way to get an intimate experience with the marine ecosystem and also burn off some of those cruise calories (yes, they count!); this ISP shore excursion fits the bill on all counts.
You’ll hop into a tandem kayak (solo travelers or odd-numbered groups may be paired up) and – with your guide – paddle out of Hoonah to smaller bays and coves where the boats can’t (or don’t) go; along the way, you can look for eagles, sea otters, and other coastal critters.
Best of all, the cruise excursion is relatively short and affordable, giving you time to explore a bit on your own before/after (depending on your time in port).
🗿 Best for Culture Vultures: Seafood Feast & Tribal Dance Show
This Ice Strait Point excursion is new on my list this year, and it takes the #1 spot, which is quite an accomplishment; I like it as an option if you are visiting Alaska for cultural experiences since it combines a chance to see Native culture with a chance to taste native flavors.
While some past cruisers don’t love the tribal dance (saying it’s “not authentic” which I’ll come back to in a minute…) and some thought the meal was too casual for the price, I still think it’s a good option, especially if you haven’t planned anything like this during another time on your cruise.
Coming back to the question of the authenticity of that Native Alaskan cultural experience, I think we should always assume that if an experience is being offered for visitors, it is inherently not authentic. It is, instead, an opportunity to learn in a way that respects the significance of those traditions; we are not members of the tribal group, and are not entitled to “authentic” access.
In any case, be aware that there are mixed reviews so this might not be the shore excursion for you – but it is a good contender worth considering.
👨👩👧👦 Best for Families: Whales, Wildlife & Brown Bear Search
Choosing family-friendly shore excursions in Icy Strait Point can be tricky: there are certainly typical kid-oriented experiences like ziplining and ATVing, but you can do those anywhere… If you can get your fam on board with something more unique, this wildlife-seeking excursion is a good option because of how much you might see.
There are several similar excursions to this “Whales, Wildlife & Brown Bear Search” that you might see depending on your cruise company; the main difference I see between them is the tour duration and thus the price. So if you don’t love the cost of this one, look at some of the other excursions that seem similar (“Whale & Marine Mammals Cruise” is also on this list as a shorter, more cost-effective option.)
In any case, this is a great excursion if your goal in visiting Alaska is for the whole family to see new animals – especially if you’re not doing a land tour as part of your Alaska trip. Over the course of this half-day excursion, you’ll have the chance to spot both wildlife and marine life as you cruise near the entrance to Glacier Bay National Park – depending on the time of year, you might spot anything from humpback whales to orcas to sea otters to bears on the coast – and plenty of birds like eagles and seabirds.
🦪 Best for Foodies: In Alaska’s Wildest Kitchen
Foodie cruisers, this one’s for you! I try to include a food tour in every one of the posts in this series; I believe food is one of the best ways to experience the culture of a place – including Alaska. Since I already pointed out that Icy Strait Point is a unique cultural destination, what better way to experience it than on a cooking class excursion?
On this excursion, you’ll sample some of the food Alaskans love to enjoy, learn from a local chef about how to filet and prepare fresh Alaskan seafood, and then try your hand at preparing some for yourself. As a souvenir, you’ll get recipe cards so you can try to prepare these meals once you return home.
For 2024, this excursion scored very close to the #1 spot, so if you’re uncertain about that one, I feel 100% confident recommending this one as the next-best option (by the slimmest of margins!).
🐋 Best for Wildlife Seekers: Spasski River Valley Wildlife & Bear Search
Wildlife is one of the main draws for visitors who want to cruise in Alaska. Unfortunately, the biggest ships have a tendency to scare off a lot of the wildlife you hope to see. To increase your chances, you need to get off the big boat, get on two feet, and get out in the Alaska wild. While this cruise excursion isn’t totally unique – you can see bears elsewhere in Alaska – it’s a good chance to guarantee that experience at a good value.
This excursion is a gentle walking tour that lasts 2.5 to 3 hours depending on the wildlife you see. After a short bus ride to the Spasski River Valley, you’ll take a guided tour along a boardwalk and gravel path into a habitat that Alaskan brown bears are known to frequent. There’s no guarantee, of course, but that’s part of what makes the excursion an adventure! You can potentially also see bald eagles, Sitka black-tailed deer, and otters.
Which of these Icy Strait Point excursions will you book? If you have questions or comments, let me know below.
Keep Planning Your Cruise!
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